Playing defense in football video games has never really been fun — or at least, it hasn't been as fun as playing offense.
Madden NFL 25 developer EA Tiburon is trying to make it more fun and engaging to play defense in the Xbox One version of the game with a second-screen experience, a SmartGlass app called CoachGlass, that goes much deeper than the "Ask Madden" feature ever could. We spent some hands-on time with CoachGlass on a Windows 8 tablet along with Madden 25 on Xbox One last week, and it seemed like a pretty dynamic duo for defense.
In principle, defense is just as interesting as offense; the ever-shifting battle between them comprises the chess match at the heart of football. But playing defense in a video game gives players much less control and agency. On offense, you always control the guy with the ball in his hands. On defense, you're often attempting to switch to the defender who's closest to the guy with the ball, in an effort to bring him down and prevent your opponent from scoring.
Defense is a cerebral endeavor, a characteristic that already makes it harder to represent in a game than offense. It's not only tough to know which defensive play to choose in a particular situation; it also often feels like the choice doesn't have much of an effect on a play's outcome.
"A lot of players, when they play Madden on defense, kind of don't want to do too much because they think they're probably going to make more mistakes and do more harm than good," said Thomas Singleton, a producer on Madden 25, during a CoachGlass demo last week.
The CoachGlass app, which is exclusive to the Xbox One version of Madden 25, essentially allows its user to act as a defensive coordinator — and it gives that person strategic data that's similar to the information a real defensive coordinator would have. It offers three different levels of interaction and two ways to play. CoachGlass is tied directly to the game of Madden 25 that you're playing, and augments the data set from that single game with data aggregated from tens of thousands of games of Madden that have been played online.
The app takes effect as soon as your opponent calls an offensive play. At its most basic level, the app will analyze the offense's personnel group for that play — how many running backs, wide receivers and tight ends are on the field — and suggest three defensive plays to you based on what Madden users have been calling against that formation. You tap on the screen to select the play, and the game on your Xbox One recognizes the play call instantly.
defense is a cerebral endeavor
If you want to go deeper, you can have the app suggest plays based on your opponent's tendencies. You'll always be able to see a percentage breakdown of how often they're running the ball versus passing, and then choose to defend the run or the pass. CoachGlass also displays a visual breakdown of where your opponent is going with the ball (running to the left, middle or right; making short, middle or deep throws to the left, middle or right).
That allows you to make very specific educated guesses on defense — guesses that only become more informed as the game goes on and data regarding your opponent's tendencies piles up. And for fans who really know football, CoachGlass provides a complete history of the last 64 plays in a game: what the offense called versus what the defense called, along with the outcome of each play in yardage gained or lost. This pane of the app allows users to filter the play history by situation — what has he been doing on 1st and 10? 3rd and long?
Football strategists can use that feature to analyze the progress of a game and identify trends themselves. You can go through a thought process like this: "She tends to run play action on 2nd and short, and when I blitzed last time it cost me, so now I'm going to drop back into zone coverage instead."
CoachGlass is "teaching you the sport of football"
You can use CoachGlass as a second-screen experience when you're playing by yourself. But as we discovered during a hands-on demo, the app also works wonderfully in a co-op mode of play. We took turns with another member of the media — they played defense while allowing us to pick plays through CoachGlass, and then we switched roles. Because the app conveys a lot of data well, without succumbing to information overload, this could be a great way to play Madden 25 with a friend or family member who might not be up to the challenge of picking up a controller and playing the game itself.
CoachGlass worked almost flawlessly during our demo, with instant communication between the game running on an Xbox One and the app running on a Microsoft Surface. (As a SmartGlass experience, CoachGlass will be compatible with Windows 8, Windows Phone, iOS and Android.) We even held up the Surface to the TV and verified that the play clock was ticking down in sync on both screens.
The advantage of CoachGlass, said Singleton, is that it's "teaching you the sport of football." It may be the best tutorial in the history of Madden, both from a learning standpoint and a fun standpoint.
"How do I play defense? What defense stops what offense? So I learn that over time," he explained. "It opens up a whole different dimension to playing defense [in Madden]."